Learn When and How to Introduce Palliative Care

Betty R. Ferrell, PhD, RN


December 27, 2016

Introducing Palliative Care

Dr Chee should honestly explain to Cynthia her disease status and the needs that palliative care can support. It is best to avoid such language as "nothing more can be done," but rather to emphasize that although the cancer will not be cured, much can be done to treat her quality-of-life concerns and symptoms through involvement of palliative care.

To maintain the trust that the patient has with Dr Chee and to allow her to develop a similar level of trust with the palliative care team, honest information must be provided. Cynthia's care should be culturally respectful, and to this end, may not initially focus on discussions about death but should focus on her values and her own goals of care. It will be important for Dr Chee to remain a part of her care, but the concurrent involvement of the palliative care team will be valuable, especially because Cynthia is facing an advanced cancer known to be associated with many symptoms and quality-of-life concerns.

Although the benefits of palliative care are well established, concern about how best to introduce this concept to patients remains significant. The media-induced association between palliative care and "death panels" created widespread public confusion about this care. Palliative care should not be viewed as "doing nothing," and any communication with patients about palliative care should be honest. It is common for clinicians to feel a sense of failure when disease-focused therapies are not effective. But a strongly growing body of evidence supports the importance of introducing palliative care as a means to support patients in collaboration with their current providers.[1,2,3]

In Cynthia's case, palliative care has much to offer in terms of symptom management, facilitating communication with her family, and focusing on her goals and values. Palliative care teams and other clinicians need to work together to introduce this care to patients, address misconceptions, and help the transition of the patient with advanced disease.[4,5]

Editor's Recommendations


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: